Sunday, December 30, 2012

Repost: Feuerzangenbowle

I thought I'd share this post again (I originally posted it in 2009), since I'll be making this recipe for New Year's Eve. Get out the fire extinguishers and let's make some punch! 

Today's post has nothing at all to do with fashion, unless you count the subject's ability to stain your clothing. It does have to do with booze and lighting things on fire though, which may perhaps interest you. This post is about a little-known (in the US, anyway) German beverage called Feuerzangenbowle. And today I'm going to tell you how to make it, because it's a drink that's just perfect for this time of year. I'll start by describing the whole process and then I'll give the list of ingredients and quantities at the end.

Feuerzangenbowle is sort of like a mulled red wine, and starts out pretty much the same way, with red wine being steeped with spices and citrus fruit. But because of the way it's prepared, this drink is well-suited for a large party with friends, firstly because of the large quantity that the recipe makes, and secondly because the fire is pretty damn impressive. What's shown in the photo above is the final preparation step, which involves soaking a dense cone of sugar, called a Zuckerhut, in Bacardi 151 and lighting it on fire over the heated wine mixture. The idea is to carmelize and melt the suger, which drips into the wine through a long slot in the bottom of that metal tray.

My love of Feuerzangenbowle started years and years ago when a friend introduced me to it after spending some time doing an intership in Stuttgart, Germany. I used to have one of the metal trays, called the feuerzangen, but lost it to my ex; for years I've looked for a replacement, and finally found an entire set, which is sort of like a fondue set with an alcohol burner underneath. I special ordered it from Germany with the help of the delightful Erika at German Specialty Imports in Prior Lake, MN, and last weekend I gave it its first trial run. You really don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make this drink, but you've gotta love that gorgeous German engineering, which I assure you is a vision in all its gleaming stainless steel glory. If you can't get your hands on a proper feuerzangen, you can try using a large, slotted metal spoon or something similar. It's fairly important to rig up a system that you won't have to hold onto though, because the sugar takes a good 15 minutes to burn, and then of course there's the little matter of it being on fire.

Besides the feuerzangen (or your reasonably MacGyver'd-up substitute), the other unique thing you'll need for this recipe is a Zuckerhut, which can be found at German delis or import stores. Alternately, you can use a whole pile of sugarcubes, about 250 grams' worth of 'em, to be precise. Having made it both ways, I can tell you that although the sugar cubes work just fine, the zuckerhut is a lot easier to work with.

To get started, you'll first need to steep the spices (cinnamon, cloves, and optionally cardamom) and the citrus (oranges and lemons, both the juice and part of the peels), with the wine (choose a dry red wine). To do this you can either mix everything together and leave it in the fridge overnight, or alternately you can heat the mixture until the wine is steaming (not boiling!), and let it steep for 15 minutes or so. For my test run I tried the second method, and it worked great.

Once the wine mixture is ready, it's time to prepare the sugar and rum. When using a zuckerhut, I like to place it in a small container, pour Bacardi 151 over it until no more absorbs, and then let it soak for several minutes, because I find that more of the rum soaks in and the sugar will burn longer without additional maintenance (which I'll discuss shortly). If you're using sugarcubes you can still use this approach, just don't let them soak long enough that the sugar dissolves.

Now, remove all the spices and peels from the wine, and heat the wine in a metal pot it until it's steaming. Position the feuerzangen above the pot of wine, place the rum-soaked sugar in the feuerzangen, stand back, and light it. The sugar makes a beautiful blue flame as it burns (it's even prettier with the lights off), and the dripping caramelized sugar makes a satisfying sizzling sound as it hits the wine.

As the sugar burns down, two things can eventually happen: the flame can go out, or the sugar can start to burn and blacken. To prevent this, you will need to periodically douse the sugar with more rum. This is where the real pyrotechnics get going, because when you add more rum, the flame will shoot up about a foot and a half or more. Obviously, it's important to have a steady hand and nerves of steel. It's also EXTREMELY important not to pour the rum directly from the bottle. Have you ever heard of a Molotov Cocktail? Well, I'm almost 100% sure you don't want one to go off in your house, and putting an open flame near the mouth of a bottle of high proof liquor is, in essence, the same thing.

Instead, pour a small amount, maybe 2-3 tablespoons, of liquor into a metal ladle or large spoon, and carefully but quickly and smoothly pour it over the sugar. You'll need to brace yourself for the flame, but don't chicken out! -- just pour it right over the sugar, pull the spoon back slowly, and if necessary, blow out the now flaming spoon. Easy! If it's your first time making it, and depending on how adept you are with handling fire, having someone else standing by with a fire extinguisher might not be a bad idea. It's also a good idea to make sure you don't have a lot of loose clothing on that could get in the way of the flame.

Once the sugar is all melted, the feuerzangenbowle is ready to serve. I like to use regular old coffee mugs, since the drink will be piping hot. My favorite part is the initial sensation as you raise the mug to your lips; you're hit with a strong citrus smell, and the fumes from the steaming hot, residual Bacardi sort of sting your nose as you take a sip. The sugar and spices nicely balance the dry wine, the drink being far less sweet than you might imagine, given the amount of sugar that goes into it.

With my recent test batch I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the feuerzangenbowle will keep for several days in the fridge, if for some reason you find yourself unable to consume 3 liters of alcohol in a single evening. I've never tried scaling the recipe down, as I've usually only made it for a group, though I found this photo on the left that suggests there are also single serving approaches. That doesn't sound nearly as fun though, or as delightfully dangerous.

Feuerzangenbowle Recipe:
2 cinnamon sticks
7-8 cloves
2-3 cardamom pods
3 oranges (juice and a large slice of peel)
2 lemons (juice and a large slice of peel)
3 Liters dry red wine
2-3 cups Bacardi 151
1 zuckerhut, or 250g sugarcubes

large metal pan
long-handled metal spoon or ladle


Sheila said...

I remember when you first posted this recipe - it sounded good then and it still sounds good now!

I hope you have a great New Year's, Audi!7

Shybiker said...

Wow, what a theatrical dish! And exciting -- pouring more flammable material on a fire is very dramatic. Interesting to see the name Stuttgart: that's where my father was born and grew up and where his sister's family still lives.

Happy New Year, Audi, dear. said...

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Jenn B. said...

Its also possible, with minimal effort, to make your sugar cones. The process is very similar to making a sand castle. Place sugar in a bowl and just lightly moisten with water, until the sugar clumps together. Pack the damp sugar in a cone shaped glass (I bought mine at a thrift store for $0.50) remove the sugar from the mold by tapping the inverted mold firmly on a paper lined surface (table or countertop) The cone should come right out - now just let it dry completely (it usually takes about two to three days) As the sugar cone dries out, you will need to change the paper and rotate the cone. When its dry it will be hard and dry. Ready to be used for dishes like this :-)